Africa Cup of Nations: Open Thread

African Nations’ Cup 2008 LogoI’ve read all the previews. I’ve gaped at the ongoing controversy stirred by Blatter’s big mouth declaration that the Cup should be moved to summer. I’m impressed by the determination of fans to make it to Ghana and cheer on their teams despite the obstacles. And there’s something particularly attractive about an international tournament without all those familiar European teams clogging it up. Frankly, I’m excited for it to begin today.

Of course, many of the players from African nations are more and more familiar to those of us who watch European football religiously. Is this why there seems to be more interest in the Cup than even two years ago amongst your average world football fan? Or is it due to the internet, shrinking our horizons just enough this time?

This is the place to put any thoughts you have about the tournament as it kicks off today in Ghana. Or will you be boycotting it, because you think Sepp Blatter is right that the priority should be the needs of club football?

And perhaps most importantly, have you picked a team to root for? For me, it’s the Super Eagles of Nigeria. This goes all the way back to USA ’94 which, you might recall, is the last time England failed to qualify for the World Cup.

As soon as I saw Nigeria play, they won me over. I don’t want to offer awful cliches about African football, but there was something refreshing about them, particularly in contrast to Graham Taylor’s godawful England team at the time (Taylor being Steve McClaren crossed with the boss from The Office, convinced the future of football lay in the 70 yard hit and hope).

When Italy came back to knock Nigeria out in the second round, quite unjustly I thought, it was a minor tragedy in my footballing life. So I will be cheering on the Super Eagles, as soon as I can figure out how to watch the games on the internet here in America. . .

Day One

The opener, Ghana vs. Guinea, has begun. Even though I purchased a subscription to the group stage on, it’s not working so I’m watching pixellated figures on Sopcast instead. Daryl is doing a fine job liveblogging over at the World Cup Blog right now telling me what’s actually happening, so join us there if you’re interested. I’ll also add some observations in the comments below, and you should, too. 0-0 at half-time, despite Ghana’s absolute dominance.

1-0: Ghana score from the spot, with a somewhat dubious penalty, but it’s hard to argue with the scoreline.

1-1!: Guinea score, a powerful header tying it up. Unfair on Ghana, but the sight of Guinea’s fans dancing deleriously in the stands with joy was a heart-warming moment.

2-1 Ghana: Muntari, from thirty yards out in the 90th minute, rips off an absolute cliched belter, screamer, or whatever else you want to call it, into the top corner. Ghana goes wild.

Morocco beat a poor Namibia side in the opening day’s other game, in front of a disappointingly empty stadium. View the goals here.

Day Two

Ivory Coast-Nigeria: Perhaps the most glamorous clash of the first round is going on as I type — Ivory Coast, starring the likes of Didier Drogba, against my favourites, Nigeria’s Super Eagles. It’s 0-0 in the first half, with Yobo doing a fine job containing Drogba. Join Daryl at the World Cup Blog for liveblogging action right now.

An hour later, and Ivory Coast have edged a solid win. The two teams were both so powerful and athletic — who knew Obi Mikel could be made to look normal — they cancelled each other out for large portions of the game. But a magic dribble by Kalou was enough for the Elephants to sneak it, and deservedly so.

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